By Sanjay Jha
First published in TEHELKA dated May 26th 2012
( The IPL sting operation et al is the tip of the tip of the iceberg).
Finding controversy with IPL ( Indian Premier League) has never been an arduous task; they usually arrive with much cacophony and conviviality on a red carpet at your doorstep. Right now they are in a rambunctious celebratory mood, courtesy a sting operation by India TV channel that shows various relatively nondescript ( to the “ average viewer”) players making lurid confessions about spot fixing. Amongst them is T P Sudhindra who was the highest wicket taker in Ranji Trophy for the year 2011-12.
The T20 has given birth to a new hybrid , the “ Instant IPL Cricket Superhero”; this super-beefed muscular lad has no ambitions to earn the coveted national blue cap, he just wants a few seasons of IPL frenzy .IPL gives him windfall earnings, local stardom, media access, several brands on his luminous jersey and if lucky even a Bollywood arm-candy. Given the mercurial nature of the game, just one or two stunning knocks or acrobatic dives can overnight create that transitory titan. After all an hour of fame is worth a lifetime without a name, right?? But there are risks.
The players are subject to irrational unpredictability; best example is Paul Valthaty who last year was a headline grabber for Kings XI Punjab, and this year is twiddling his thumbs in his suburban Mumbai home watching IPL on a TV screen like you and me. Kamran Khan is picking brown hay in his brother’s farm; just the other day he was in the august company of the flamboyant Shane Warne is plush five-star comfort. The youngsters are fully aware that IPL is a dicey mid-cap stock. They know they are susceptible. So do the wily fixers.
The BCCI has suspended five players, but shouldn’t they have first axed or at least investigated the franchise owners guilty of illegal cash payments to attract innocent players intimidated by big bucks ? If IPL could suspend Ravinder Jadeja and Manish Pandey for shopping around, why the charitable disposition towards Sahara and Kings XI Punjab for dubious underhand deals and contract violations? And isn’t that symptomatic of a larger malaise because if everybody is doing that ( as alleged) , then it is not a surreptitious practice, just an unwritten code amongst scrupulous thieves. N Srinivasan, BCCI boss-man who is currently himself battling conflict of interest legal issues, clearly has no right for moralistic grandstanding. The ostrich like attitude smacks of gargantuan arrogance or maybe incurable myopia, either way, Indian cricket stares at hard times. In most cases , there would be light at the end of the tunnel, but for BCCI that light could be an approaching train called the Juggernaut Express.
In a black-money saturated economy obliterating corruption will not be a cakewalk, but hard steps still need to be taken; besides sensitization programs and exposure to the wicked ways of the nefarious mafia like honeytraps , we need transparent disclosure of player assets, surprise mystery shopper and lie-detector tests. An independent anti-corruption unit headed by a respected ombudsman will help, as will registered sports agents who meet a stringent qualifying criteria. Most importantly, one needs a whistleblower protection system, because it is the nasty fixer’s colleagues who are usually the first to smell the fishy stuff. So far BCCI has been like Rip Van Winkle, quietly comatose.
Ideally, this was the perfect period for BCCI to provide global leadership to cricket; after all, India commands a disproportionately humongous 75% of financial market-share. Instead we function like a woebegone banana republic milking the cash cow of cricket to its bare bones. The IPL brand , long tarnished by former IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi’s misdemeanors, instead of resurrection is facing further downward relegation. Given the peculiar BCCI structure, its political stranglehold is inextricable. Large funds attract greedy patrons, so despite serious personal misgivings, virtually all political parties collectively coalesce to control its abundant riches. No one wants to sign the National Sports Development Bill as it will mean coming under the RTI Act. Transparency and accountability are two terms that are considered singularly bizarre by the charlatans masquerading as mandarins. The BCCI is like an unchallenged monopoly.
The five players will be history soon. Like one man called Abhijit Kale. They are mere pawns, sacrificial lambs who must meet a bloody end. The cozy club of crony capitalists , the real Shatranj ke Khiladi ( chess-players) , headed by the unctuous BCCI head honcho himself, will come up with some standard pontifications. Life will go on. And everyone will say, bring on the cheerleaders!